NEW ORLEANS — In his four years at Tulane, quarterback Ryan Griffin has seen the damage caused by mistakes.
Whether it is interceptions, fumbles, blocked kicks or simply inopportune tripping, the redshirt junior has seen the backlash from an error-laden season and career.
However, rarely has a series of mistakes swallowed the Green Wave (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) like the ones that led to Tulane’s 33-17 loss to Memphis on Saturday. A third quarter stretch that featured two interceptions — one of which was run back 79 yards for a touchdown — and a blocked punt turned a three-point lead into a nine-point deficit without surrendering a single first down.
“I refer to them as fatal mistakes because they just kill us,” Griffin said. “We dominated that game, but we had those fatal mistakes, and that’s been it. It’s really been the difference. I think we could have had a game just like against UAB (a 49-10 Tulane win) without those fatal mistakes because it just costs you so much.”
The numbers concur. The Wave outgained Memphis in yards 377-213, but the two “gift-wrapped” touchdowns spoiled an opportunity to snap a losing streak that instead grew to five.
Tulane will have another opportunity to stop the skid at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against C-USA opponent East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Interim coach Mark Hutson said he believes the Wave will emerge as a better team against the Pirates (3-4, 2-1) based on what he experienced on the sideline during the loss to Memphis.
“There’s a belief and there’s an attitude,” Hutson said. “After the rough week we had last week, this team still had that belief and had that attitude on offense. They did believe. And even though we had some of those negative situations that have turned on us in the past, we held tight.
“It has to begin somewhere, and we are going to point toward Saturday, because that’s where it begins.”
Griffin said Tulane played “looser” and with a calm it did not have under former coach Bob Toledo, who resigned last Tuesday.
“We’ve always been under the impression that we had to play perfectly, and coach Hut(son) has kind of relayed the message that we just aren’t going to play perfectly,” Griffin said. “Instead what we have to focus on is knowing they are going to make plays, because every team has playmakers, and when they do, we have to respond with plays of our own.
“It’s not about being perfect, it’s about responding to adversity. It just helps to acknowledge it and accept the idea we can control the next play but not the last one gone by. I think it’s going to help us going forward.”
While the new approach seems to be popular among the team, it still hasn’t paid any direct dividends. Tulane failed to score on Memphis after the interception return for a touchdown and allowed the Tigers to extend the lead to three possessions and walk out of the Superdome with its first C-USA win since 2009.
Tulane’s performance in the red zone hasn’t helped either. Tulane ranks last in C-USA and 119th out of 120 FBS teams in red zone defense (allowing 26 touchdowns and nine field goals on 36 possessions). Meanwhile, its offense has committed five turnovers inside the red zone, which has Tulane tied with UAB for the most squandered opportunities inside the 20.
Now the mission for Tulane is to turn effort into results, a process that has been hampered so often by the myriad of mistakes incurred.
“We are judged on the wins and judged on the losses,” Hutson said. “The outcome is what’s going to be judged by me and the staff that we have. More important than the wins and losses is the attitude of the team and the belief in one another. It’s about being competitive throughout the game. And it’s when things go wrong … that they pull together offensively, defensively, special teams and as a staff.
“Is it crucial we win a game? Obviously, yes. But to me we have to take small steps and we have to do building blocks.”